Ruth Jackson

Research Scientist Emeritus
Natural Resources Canada

Learn about the logistical challenges of mounting a research mission to the Arctic, including the effect of extreme cold on scientific instruments, and the importance of having the right ship and the right people for the job.


I had spent a career really working in the Arctic both on ships and on ice camps. I had worked particularly with the Americans in the Canada Basin on their ships. I had worked in the Arctic on a two shipped experiment with the Russians and the Germans and I knew very clearly that you are not getting close to the Canadian margin on a ship. It couldn’t be done. So my involvement would be to say we are not using ships we are going to do it from the ice.

In the beginning of the UNCLOS project, I was the chief scientist in the Arctic on the ice camp work and on the ship going programs. For UNCLOS, what we were trying to do to get the maximum claim possible you have to look at bathymetric highs that are attached to your margin and they are both attached, the ones that are significant for us, the Lomonosov Ridge and the Alpha Ridge are both attached north of Ellesmere Island. This is the area we had to begin our work.

Remember it is cold in the Arctic, you are putting small instruments the size of a lunch box on the ice, you have to find them again and they have to work. We had extremely bad weather conditions. We finally get a day or two of flying. We put the instruments out, it storms for five days. The ice moves. You have to find those things again. We didn’t get them all out. We had a few in a base camp. We turned the instruments on. They were still working. If they had not been working we would have gotten no data out of the first experiment.

There were actually a small number of people who could do this job and the Geological Survey of Canada, both the part in Dartmouth and the part that is in Ottawa, had very particular expertise. If you want a specialist to fix your computer, that’s easy to find; finding a seagoing tech with 30 years of Arctic experience is very difficult.

The Louis is very important to the UNCLOS program because we are working in heavy ice and it’s Canada’s largest ice breakers. It has 23,000 horse power and a bubbler system so we are able to tow gear behind it to collect data. And also, one of the interesting things, the Healey is a much newer ship but it’s built on more military standards and it isn’t near as comfortable. When people could exchange between the Louis and the Healy, they generally liked to stay on the Louis as long as possible.

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